Every year, the ACC is put up against the Big Ten for bragging rights as the better basketball conference. Although the ACC had dominated prior to the Big Ten’s first win in 2009 (after 10 ACC wins to start the Challenge), the Big Ten has now either tied or won each Challenge since that point. Beyond winning the Challenge, there are always some intriguing contests between teams that have Final Four aspirations. These games stand as a chance to make an impression early in the season against a quality opponent, and any team can use it as a chance to either ride into conference play as a championship contender, or for some teams a chance to bounce back after a rough early season campaign. Here are the previews of each game in the 2016 ACC-Big Ten Challenge, from the first game Monday night to the last game Wednesday night.
Minnesota (6-0) at Florida State (5-1), 7:00 PM ET
Minnesota has gotten off to a great start to the season, coming in at 6-0 and looking to shake off their demons from last year’s terrible season. Florida State also comes in with a good start, with their lone loss coming at the hands of Temple in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This could be a wild start to this year’s challenge, as Florida State loves to push the ball up the court.
Minnesota wins if: they can contain, or at least limit, Dwayne Bacon. Bacon has looked much improved in the new year, bumping his scoring average by three to 18.2 per game while also shooting 8% better from the field (52%) and a whopping 20% better from beyond the arc (48.3%.) If Dwayne Bacon gets going, I don’t like the Gopher’s chances away from home.
Florida State wins if: they control the tempo of the game. The Seminoles run a faster than average offense, but what really impresses me is their efficiency. They currently rank 16th in the country in Offensive Efficiency according to Kenpom. If they are able to operate at their desired speed at their current efficiency, I don’t think Minnesota will have the guns to keep up with them.
Wake Forest (5-1) at Northwestern (4-2), 9:00 PM ET
Is this the year Northwestern finally makes the NCAA Tournament? They probably have to win this one for it to be the case. The Wildcats look good, but again they have had some trouble getting the job done in crunch time. They blew a tough one against Notre Dame, and it will be interesting to see if they can manage to put it behind them and focus on a Wake Forest team that has put together five wins out of six games to start the season.
Wake Forest wins if: they can lock down on defense from the start. Offense hasn’t been the issue for the Demon Deacons thus far. They rank as the 17th most efficient offense in the country according to Kenpom, and have an impressive 59.5% Effective Field Goal average. However, their demons tend to come on the other side of the ball, where they are only the 145th most efficient defense. This was evident when Villanova dropped 96 on them in their blowout loss. If they let Northwestern get rolling from the start, their offense will be hard-pressed to catch up.
Northwestern wins if: two of the Wildcats’ “big three” show up on offense. I think this will be the winning formula all year for Northwestern. Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey and Bryant McIntosh all currently average double figures for Northwestern. If two of these three can get upwards of 15 each game, including this one, you have to like the chance of a Wildcat victory with the support they have down the roster.
Pittsburgh (5-1) at Maryland (7-0), 7:00 PM ET
The Panthers visit Maryland with a worse record, but I think they are the better team right now. Maryland has looked the part of a team that lost four of their starting five from a year ago, and the Terps are still looking for their identity. Pittsburgh is looking for a quality road win out of conference, as they will be tough to come by in the gauntlet that is the ACC.
Pittsburgh wins if: they limit Melo Trimble from a scoring perspective. Trimble’s currently averaging 21.1 points per game, while taking 30% of his team’s shots according to Kenpom. It is clear he is the Alpha on this team, and he commands his team accordingly. If Pittsburgh can rattle him early, he has the potential to become a black hole and lead to turnovers and missed shots.
Maryland wins if: they keep Michael Young off the glass. I’ll admit it, Michael Young is one of my favorite players to watch in all of college basketball. He plays strong, and can really get to the rim. However, he impresses me most in his ability to rebound, where he averages 8.2 per game. In my opinion, Michael Young will get his points (he averages 23.3 per game.) I think if Maryland can frustrate him on the glass and limit his second-chance points, they have a good shot of beating a very solid Panther team.
Georgia Tech (4-1) at Penn State (4-3), 7:00 PM ET
Fresh off their football team’s Big Ten East championship, the Nittany Lions will attempt to turn their early season struggles around against the Yellow Jackets. Penn State was considered a dark horse in the Big Ten before the season, but they have looked anything but the part so far. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech is considered one of the lower tier ACC teams by most. Both teams will try to use this as a chance to impress media and others.
Georgia Tech wins if: Ben Lammers gets a double-double. Penn State has long been suffering for a big man who can hold his own. The Yellow Jackets have one who could give Penn State some troubles in Ben Lammers. He currently averages 17.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, respectively. If he eats up the boards down low while maintaining his scoring average, the Nittany Lions could be in trouble.
Penn State wins if: Shep Garner gets some help from the young talent. Thus far, Shep Garner has been good, not great. I expect him to come out firing for such a big game, but he needs some help. Penn State ranks 335th in the country in experience according to Kenpom. Needless to say, the young players need to come along quickly if the Nittany Lions want to live up to their preseason billing as a team to watch.
#22 Syracuse (4-1) at #17 Wisconsin (5-2), 7:30 PM ET
One could argue this is the first marquee match up of the Challenge, with both teams coming in ranked in the top 25. However, both of these teams have had their early season issues. Wisconsin has struggled to live up to their billing as Big Ten favorite, while Syracuse is coming off a loss to South Carolina in Brooklyn.
Syracuse wins if: their zone can limit Nigel Hayes from inside. So far this year, Hayes has looked average overall, less at times. He is only shooting 29% from three, while he takes over five per game. If Syracuse can keep him out of the paint and his is forced to produce from outside, Wisconsin could easily have trouble scoring the basketball.
Wisconsin wins if: they can win the battle on the glass. Both teams rank among the nation’s best in rebounding, with one exception: Syracuse really struggles to rebound on the defensive glass. If Hayes is indeed struggling from outside and there are rebounds to be had, then the Badgers will need to exploit Syracuse and dominate on second chance opportunities.
NC State (5-1) at Illinois (4-3), 9:00 PM ET
John Groce must be feeling the heat right now, as Illinois has looked pretty bad to start the year. On the other side, NC State has looked okay, with their lone loss coming against a dangerous Creighton side. NC State has some dangerous weapons, with three players averaging at least 17 points per game. Illinois needs a big win at home to straighten out the course of their season.
NC State wins if: Malcolm Hill struggles from the field. Hill is clearly the go-to guy for the Illini, averaging 18.3 points per game and 7.3 rebounds. Hill has also improved his three-point shooting to 45.2% from 31.4% from a year ago. If Hill doesn’t perform well or strings a few misses together, the Wolfpack will have a chance to pounce and stretch out a lead.
Illinois wins if: they can limit Dennis Smith Jr’s efficiency. Smith thus far has been tremendous as a freshman, and is coming off a 30 point game against Loyola Chicago. However, he is always prone to that “freshman wall” that seems to be inevitable. If Illinois can pressure him into some bad shots, the Illini may be able to capitalize on the other end.
Iowa (3-3) at Notre Dame (6-0), 9:00 PM ET
Iowa lost a lot of production from last year, and it has showed so far. Star Peter Jok scored 42 in a 100-92 loss to Memphis, which is never a good omen for the season. Notre Dame, the hosts, have looked dangerous thus far, with their offense looking as potent as ever. With the game being in South Bend, Iowa has their work cut out for them.
Iowa wins if: Peter Jok gets some help beyond freshman Tyler Cook. Jok and Cook have looked great thus far, and after that there is quite the drop off. Jok average 25.3 points per game, Cook averages 13.7 then there is a drop until Nicholas Baer, who average just 7.0. Unless Iowa has someone have a breakout game, I don’t like their chances against a well-balanced Irish team.
Notre Dame wins if: they limit Peter Jok. Although this seems redundant, it really can’t be stated how much Peter Jok means to this Iowa team, particularly on offense. If he doesn’t produce even his average, I don’t see how Iowa wins this game.
Michigan State (4-3) at #5 Duke (6-1), 9:30 PM ET
The Spartans have struggled off the bat, coming in with a 4-3 record. However, they have faced some quality opponents and really haven’t had an easy game yet. Duke comes in with some injury troubles, as their best recruit, Harry Giles, has yet to play. However, Cameron Indoor is always a tough place to play, regardless of the personnel.
Michigan State wins if: they win a war of attrition. One thing I think of with Tom Izzo coached teams is a certain toughness. They will need to tap that part of their game Tuesday night if they hope to win. As I said, Duke is down not only Giles but two other star recruits (Marques Bolden and Jayson Tatum.) If the Spartans can simply wear down the Blue Devils and create some foul trouble, they just might be able to pull it off.
Duke wins if: Amile Jefferson wins the rebounding battle with Miles Bridges. Jefferson is the seasoned veteran on this Duke team, and he is a force to be reckoned with down low. Miles Bridges, although heralded, is just a freshman visiting one of the toughest venues in sports. If they can keep him off the glass, then I think it could get in his head and take his presence out of the game considerably.
#15 Purdue (5-1) at #14 Louisville (5-1), 7:15 PM ET
Both of these teams will be striving for conference championships, and this will be an important barometer to see where both teams currently stand. Louisville is coming off a loss to a tough Baylor team, while Purdue has strung together four wins after a loss to #2 Villanova. There will be a lot to learn from both sides when they meet Wednesday night.
Purdue wins if: they can hit 40% from behind the arc. Everyone knows about Purdue’s big men. Caleb Swanigan is a legitimate Big Ten Player of the Year contender who is averaging a double-double, while Isaac Haas is a giant who dominates the low post. However, for Purdue to win the shots will need to be falling from deep to open up the paint some. My number is 40%: if they shoot 40% from three, I like the Boilermakers’ chances.
Louisville wins if: Caleb Swanigan finishes with single digit points or rebounds. As I said before, Swanigan is averaging a double-double, including a streak of four right now. If Louisville’s bigs can keep him of the glass or limit him offensively, I don’t think Purdue will be able to get enough production elsewhere to win this game.
Virginia Tech (5-1) at Michigan (5-1), 7:15 PM ET
This is a match up of two teams I view as just out of the first-tier in their respective conferences. Michigan is coming off a loss last week to South Carolina in which they shot just 2-26 from behind the three-point line. Virginia Tech looked strong against Texas A&M, but fell after giving up a lead before beating Nebraska two days later. Both teams will look to establish themselves further in their conferences with a good win.
Virginia Tech wins if: four Hokies reach double figures scoring. This is a well-balanced Virginia Tech side, with four players averaging over 10 points and two more averaging over 8. Beyond that, they are 20th in offensive efficiency according to Kenpom. This is a Hokie team that rarely turns the ball over as well, ranking 17th in the country. If at least four players reach double figures for the Hokies, I don’t think they will hurt themselves enough to give Michigan a win.
Michigan wins if: they hit from outside. Although the South Carolina game may bias the stats, the Wolverines are only hitting 33.6% of their three-point attempts right now. With weapons like Duncan Robinson coming off the bench, they will need production from outside to win this game. I’ll give them the same number I gave Purdue: 40%.
Rutgers (6-0) at Miami (4-2), 7:15 PM ET
Don’t look now, but Rutgers is undefeated heading into this one. Although their wins haven’t come against the cream of the crop, this is still miles from where they were just one year ago. As for Miami, they are coming off two consecutive losses against Iowa State and Florida. They will look to get back on track on their home court.
Rutgers wins if: Corey Sanders gets 20 points. It was the Corey Sanders show for much of last year for the Scarlet Knights, when he averaged 15.9 points per game. This year, he has struggled from the field, averaging just 9.5 points per game on 30.6% shooting. If he can have a breakout game, it will give Rutgers a fighting chance.
Miami wins if: they keep Rutgers off the offensive glass. Rutgers ranks as the best team in the country in offensive rebounding according to Kenpom. Away from home, there won’t be much margin for error. If the Hurricanes can keep Rutgers from rebounding well, its tough to see how Rutgers heads back to New Jersey with a win.
Nebraska (4-2) at Clemson (3-2), 9:15 PM ET
Both of these teams have the look of middlings to me, with neither having much to separate themselves from the field. Nebraska played UCLA and Virginia Tech close last week, but still came away with two losses. Clemson lost tight games to Xavier and Oklahoma before a win against High Point on Friday. If either team can show something we didn’t know about them beforehand, they may solidify themselves as more than a tough out.
Nebraska wins if: they can execute down the stretch. I think Nebraska has some talent, enough to win close games. But this team just lost two of its better players in its history, Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway. They need to learn how to win again, evidenced by tight losses to UCLA and Virginia Tech. If they can keep their composure then I like their chances in this one.
Clemson wins if: Jarron Blossomgame gets at least three teammates in double figures with him. Blossomgame is clearly one of the better scorers in the country. He will get his points, that much is apparent. Clemson currently has five others averaging double figures with him. If three of those can get to that mark against a decent Cornhusker team, they should be a winning position at home.
#3 North Carolina (7-0) at #13 Indiana (4-1), 9:15 PM ET
Perhaps the best, and most intriguing, match up of this year’s Challenge comes when the Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers. This is, of course, a rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen game where North Carolina scorched the nets to shoot down the Hoosiers. Now, however, they play in a tough environment against an improved team.
North Carolina wins if: they stay patient on offense. In their shocking loss to Fort Wayne, the Hoosiers’ defense looked downright atrocious at times. There were gaps everywhere, and they were beaten off the dribble with ease. If North Carolina, a much more talented team than Fort Wayne, can stay patient and exploit the same gaps, the Tar Heels could be looking at a lot of easy offense.
Indiana wins if: they keep North Carolina off the offensive glass. North Carolina is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country, ranking at number two according to Kenpom. In order to win, IU will have to limit Kennedy Meeks and co. in that regard. If they can successfully do that and limit North Carolina’s second chance points, I don’t see them losing at home for the first time in two seasons.
Ohio State (6-0) at #6 Virginia (6-0), 9:15 PM ET
Ohio State really got a tough draw here. Virginia has been one of the premier programs over the past five years, and that doesn’t change this year. They have probably the best defense in the country, and Ohio State will be hard-pressed to crack it on the road.
Ohio State wins if: Ja’Sean Tate can bully the Cavaliers down low. With the surprise dismissal of big man Austin Nichols from the team, there is a gap down low for Virginia. Tate is a skilled big man who can be dynamic and tough to deal with. If he can establish a presence low, Ohio State will have a puncher’s chance.
Virginia wins if: they get to 60 points. To me, this just has the feel of a game where the first to 50 wins. I don’t see that being Ohio State unless they catch fire from three, but even if that is the case it will be tough. If Virginia gets to 60, it will be nearly impossible to get a road win against an elite defensive squad.
Florida State over Minnesota
Northwestern over Wake Forest
Pittsburgh over Maryland
Penn State over Georgia Tech
Wisconsin over Syracuse
NC State over Illinois
Notre Dame over Iowa
Duke over Michigan State
Michigan over Virginia Tech
Purdue over Louisville
Miami over Rutgers
Clemson over Nebraska
Indiana over North Carolina
Virginia over Ohio State
ACC over Big Ten, 8-6
Agree with what I said? Have a problem with any of my statements or predictions? Feel free to Tweet me at @ZachBeeler33 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org